Should You Shave Your Pet for Summer to Keep it Cool?
As the mercury rises and temperatures soar with the sun and heat during the summer months, most of us will get relief by shedding our clothes for cooler outfits like shorts, tees and swimsuits. If it’s a no-brainer that less clothing is going to more comfortable in the sweltering heat, it’s an equally sensible idea that shaving your pet will keep them cool too. However, before you rush off to the groomer to have your four-legged friend relieved of that thick, fluffy coat, you should reconsider this notion before you do more harm than good.
Although there are always exceptions, the general rule that is recommended by most veterinarians is that shaving pets is ill advised. The simple explanation for this caution is that your pet’s hair is very different than yours. It’s designed by nature to keep your pet cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
According to the ASPCA, a pet’s coat acts a lot like insulation in your home. Insulation prevents your house from getting too cold during the winter months and keeps it from overheating during summertime. When you shave your pet, you are basically interfering with this built-in insulation gauge and your pet is left vulnerable with no protection to regulate body temperature.
Meddling with a pet’s natural temperature regulator can predispose your pet to dangerous conditions, such as sunburn, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. The coat provides them with protection from the sun’s harmful rays and their damaging effects. It works as a barrier against the outside and keeps the hot air from accessing your pet’s skin. The hairs of the undercoat reflect the heat from the sun, which makes the animal need to pant less to cool down. The hot looking coat actually functions like a portable air conditioner, so when it is shaven off your pet is more susceptible to the dangers of the outside elements.
Additionally, dogs and cats do not have sweat glands all over their bodies like humans, so they perspire differently than people. They cool down by sweating through their paw pads and evaporation of the saliva from the tongue by panting. They do this by vaporizing water from their lungs and airways. The water that carries heat is then eliminated when they pant.
Although both cats and dogs can feel the effects of the summer heat, cats are better at regulating their body temperature. They are smaller to the exposed surface area and get rid of their body heat more easily. Regardless whether your cat is long or short-haired, cats tend to be more mobile than dogs, so they simply move to a cooler spot as the temperature rises. However, they still run the risk of becoming overheated in summer and they can suffer from dehydration, shallow breathing, and heatstroke.
Another reason why it is not a good idea to shave your pet is because the hair may not grow back in the same uniform way. Experienced dog groomers recommend against shaving double-coated canines, particularly the Arctic breeds, because their hair will not grow back to shiny full coats. Even though the undercoat will grow back, the upper hairs may not recover because a close shave leaves guard hairs imbedded under the skin. New hair will not grow back until these ends fall out. This causes irregular growth, giving the dog a scruffy and frizzy appearance. It can also cause skin problems. Single-coated dog breeds, such Yorkshire Terriers and Poodles, do not face this same problem. They may be trimmed down closer to the skin, but not shaved to the skin. At least one to two inches should remain for insulation purposes.
Older dogs suffer the most from shaving because their hair follicles do regenerate as quickly as younger dogs produce and the hairs are even less likely to grow back. Once the coat is shaved off, the hair may grow back looking spotty in some parts of the body or sometimes not grow back at all.
So what can you do to make your furry friend cool and comfortable during the summer months? The ideal solution is to have your pet groomed on a regular basis. This includes routine bathing, a light trim (if desired) that leaves at least a few inches on the body and brushing. After the bathing, the undercoat can be blown out with a high-powered hair dryer. The brushing helps to further eliminate the dead undercoat and this will provide your pet with a balanced coat. Once this undercoat is removed and more air is circulating, the lighter and more comfortable the animal will feel. The topcoat will continue to protect your pet from the summer heat and help to avoid flies and mosquito bites.
In the end, pets rely on their owners to keep them safe and cool during the summer. By avoiding a shave down to the skin, you are protecting them from harmful environmental hazards that can affect their well-being. Although there might be some circumstances that a shave down is critical to avoid more serious health conditions, it should not be a standard rule for keeping your pet cool during the summer months.